How I Gave Birth To Small Creatures Pt#2

It was May 2009 and we’d set a date for four weeks shooting in July, when the kids were on vacation. I had some amazing cinematographers and HODs gagging to get involved, truck loads of gear on offer at minimal cost. Casting of the three, 14-year-old leads was uncovering some exciting, unknown talent. I went back to the guys with money and asked for another £25k on the same terms. Of course they gave it to me.

In retrospect I can see the whole endeavour had become my Frankenstein’s monster – a lumbering, dangerous brute of an enterprise with a will of it’s own. I’d conjured something amazing that now had it’s own precarious energy and trajectory. I was sitting astride it like gnat on a velociraptor.

In late June 2009, I was about two weeks from principal photography on my debut feature, which, at that time, was called Nowhere Fast.

Not only was I both producing and directing it, I was also writing it. Or rather, NOT writing it.

I was so busy with the financing, casting, crewing, costume, locations etc that I kept putting off actually writing the script. But I was confident of the story and that was enough, right?

No. But at the time I didn’t realise that; and besides everything else was SO much more demanding and seemingly urgent.

With my days crammed full feeding my Frankenstein’s monster, I took to writing through the night with only my kid’s hamster for company (You’ll notice it also has a role in the film).

Finally, a couple of days before we started shooting, the script was done. Kind of.

It was a decent script but it was way too expansive for the money we had. I tried to comb it through to weed out anything superfluous but some things (eg certain expensive and distant locations) just wouldn’t go away without compromising the whole.

But only a fool would have derailed everything that had already been paid for and committed to. So, wired from sleepless nights and the incessant, abrasive scraping of hamster wheels, I jumped with both feet into a four-week shoot.

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How I Gave Birth To Small Creatures Pt#1

In 2009 I was writing several spec features. Suddenly, I stopped. It hit me like an anvil – I was wasting my time. Although my ideas were great and my writing accomplished, I realised that my tastes were very much ‘niche’. Contemporary films that many tastemakers considered great, I often thought tedious, average or worse. I was out of step.

It was March and I decided I wanted to make a microbudget feature in the summer; what was the point of polishing scripts that I thought were strong, only to have them overlooked by some gatekeeper who’s tastes I didn’t share? So began a series of naïve and reckless decisions and actions that resulted in me giving birth to Small Creatures.

A few years before, I’d been gob-smacked by an amazing film called Rosetta by the Dardenne Brothers.  That was the kind of film I wanted to make. My plan was to have the film finished by Spring 2010. It was going to be a spartan production, turned around quickly, with the minimum of fuss. I figured £25k would be enough for a miniscule crew and cast, shooting documentary style.

I made a handwritten note in the front of my preproduction file – Be Bold.

We were in the middle of a global financial crisis and interest rates were rock bottom. I found some wealthy people and promised them a 10% return in three years. Of course, they gave me money, no problemo. So far, so good.

I’m in Liverpool (in the Northwest of England 220 miles from London) and although plenty of films get shot here because it has centuries of great architecture, there’s no filmmaking infrastructure to speak of. I used my documentary and music video pedigree to put a call out and assemble a great team. Looking back, I now realise I didn’t know ANY of them beforehand. This was massive mistake.

I knew from the start that I wanted to pay people rather than go down the deferrals route. I was serious about making a good film and determined to sell it. I didn’t want the hassle of managing the whole deferral thing. As the team grew, so did the technical possibilities and creative ambitions. So the film began to creep imperceptibly from my original, spartan model, into something semi-industrial. I realised £25k wasn’t going to be enough.

But things were going well. I couldn’t stop now…